Face to Face: Brad Clark – Relentless & inspired

Brad Clark mentions “genuineness” lot. Evidently he sees it as crucial part of any business transaction, whether it involves client or staff member. It’s quality that Clark, Starship Foundation’s CEO, appears to have in abundance. When he talks about being inspired every day by the people he works for, and with, what could seem like pure platitude comes across as entirely sincere.
Although Auckland’s Starship Foundation is registered charity and thus an independent entity, its 16 staff members are crammed into small corner on level 15 of the Starship Children’s Health building. The lack of salubrious surroundings, however, is more than made up for by the proximity to the medical frontline, which assists in aligning the Foundation’s activities with the hospital’s needs.
It’s here in his nondescript, windowless office that Clark takes time to talk about what led him to this, his first chief executive role.
Born and raised on the east coast of Canada, Clark had initially decided to pursue career in sponsorship because it offered the opportunity to combine his love of sport with his marketing-skewed business degree from Nova Scotia’s Acadia University.
By the time he graduated his parents had moved to New Zealand, thanks to father Ken being headhunted by Canadian broadcaster CanWest to lead TV3. “I thought, ‘Sweet’,” says Clark, “I’ll come over, use their place as home-base, see Australia and travel around New Zealand.”
Long story short, he fell in love with the place and so, 19 years later, here he remains, now well and truly settled with wife and child.
One of his first Godzone gigs was at insurance company Sovereign, which at the time was enjoying explosive growth. There, under the tutelage of Paul Dryden, Clark got to “do lot of groundbreaking work sponsoring rugby, theatre and community stuff” and learnt the value of project management approach.
“We had people from different parts of the organisation contribute to these project teams,” he recalls. “I could see how working that way not only got buy-in from those parts of the organisation that you need to bring along on the journey with you but was also great leadership tool to ensure everyone feels sense of ownership in what you’re doing.”
It’s discipline he’s now introduced to Starship Foundation in response to perceived need on the part of staff “to be able to easily articulate where this organisation is going”. As result they’ve just signed off on agreed-upon one-, three- and-five-year strategies, backed up by 90-day goals, mix of the “big, hairy and audacious” and the more prosaic. An example of the latter is for each team member to “adopt ward or part of the hospital programme”, with the aim of better understanding the needs of frontline medical staff and their charges, as well as improving internal communication of the Foundation’s functions within the hospital.
While at Sovereign, Clark also realised there’s relatively low ceiling for sponsorship jobs in New Zealand’s tiny market and that he therefore needed to become more of marketing generalist.
Inspired by the example of Dryden, who he describes as “an amazing mentor”, Clark made his way as marketing contractor after leaving Sovereign, broadening his experience before landing what obviously still counts as something of career highlight: America’s Cup project manager for American Express.
“I thought it was pretty good accomplishment to create the brand ‘American Express Viaduct Harbour’ and get people to say that,” he grins.
Following this were stints as group manager at Brand Advantage and the Takapuna Beach Business Association’s general manager before securing his penultimate role, general manager of marketing and fundraising at CanTeen, the charity for young people with cancer.
During his three years there, CanTeen contributed half million dollars to Starship’s oncology unit. As result, Clark got to know both the Foundation and its then-CEO Andrew Young, who he credits with running “a steady ship that was also very innovative in its fundraising” (something that’s continuing under Clark’s watch with such new product offerings as line of Anne Geddes/Starship gift wrap).
When Young decided to step down after seven years as chief executive, “I was chomping at the bit to try and get myself in here,” says Clark. He loved the organisation and its work – making meaningful contribution ranks high in the hierarchy of things he looks for in job – and saw stepping up into CEO role as logical progression.
“It made sense for me, professionally and personally. I enjoy leadership, being the go-to guy and taking on that responsibility. While I’d had kinda supporting career in different areas, I’ve always tended to put my hand up to lead small teams within those roles, so this feels like natural space to be in.”
Clark favours consultative, team-based approach to managing, something he attributes to having participated in lot of team sports over the years in variety of roles – “captain and coach and player and player/coach” – as well as particular problem-solving exercise he vividly remembers from an early business course; real world NASA exercise, albeit one set on the moon.
“It involved mishap on the moon and having to get home from there,” he recalls. “Pretty much without fail if you tried to do it by yourself, you died; if you did it as team, you lived. It really demonstrated that the more brains around the table, the better.”
In keeping with this insight he’s spent his first year as Starship Foundation CEO doing lot of listening to “the huge brains on the team here”. As previously noted, this has resulted in the introduction of project management systems for the sake of clear, shared goals, and will soon see the team participating in personality profile testing, “because understanding each other better will help us work more collaboratively”.
Clark has also sought clarity from the management of Starship Children’s Health around the process that’s used to prioritise how the funds the Foundation raises are spent. This is because “the past year has seen the biggest ever ask of the Foundation, I personally felt the need to be more comfortable with that decision-making process, and it’s crucial to be able to clearly and genuinely communicate to donors – whether it’s ASB Bank, which has been with us for 20 years, or Mrs Jones from Invercargill – exactly what their money has contributed to”.
Starship Foundation enjoys strong brand that means “we hopefully tend to be top-of-mind when people are looking for good cause to support”, notes Clark. However, growing shortfall in government funding, tough economic times and the amount of charitable money that’s been directed to Canterbury earthquake relief all contribute to an environment in which, now more than ever, “delivering value to the customer, to the donor, is an equation we can never forget about”.
When it comes to corporate donors that value must be more than the private knowledge of the difference their money makes to the lives of sick children and their families; anonymous altruism is simply non-starter as business case.
“In our game, our world, there are very clear deliverables – not just the feel-good factor but on the business side too,” Clark says. “We need to be as commercially savvy as any business, and ensure we’re consistent with our message and that how it’s communicated meets the needs of corporate client. That might, for example, be around customer engagement – the sense that ‘you’re good company so we’ll continue to do business with you’.
“Recently one of our corporate partners showed us research that indicates their support of Starship does bind their customers to them more strongly, because they see the association as form of added value.”
Clark wishes more corporate donors applied that kind of scrutiny to their char

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